Getting your child ready for school (even if it’s just playschool) requires a little more thought and careful planning. It is definitely much more than springing school as a surprise on your child. A child that knows what is coming (even if it is something he doesn’t like) is better prepared to handle it than one who is taken completely by surprise.
For instance, some parents attempt to combat separation anxiety in their children by sneaking away after their child is distracted. While it eliminates painful goodbyes, the psychological trauma of being “abandoned” is worse on the child.
I think sending a child to school presents a similar situation. Even if your child expresses a dislike for school after learning what it is, having time to mull over it in his head can help him come to terms with the idea that he has to go to school.
1. The Mental Game
I believe that getting a child psychologically ready is one of the first steps to preparing your toddler for playschool. A little like going to the dentist for the first time, a parent must not allow his or her apprehension to show. Regardless of how you think your child will react (good or bad), you must put on a face that shows your child that school is fun and exciting.
Remember that children read the faces of adults like a book. If your concern that your child will not like school shows on your face, you can bet your child will get suspicious about school. So keep your emotions tightly under wraps and be excited about school.
2. Visiting the School Before the First Day
It is a good idea to take your child to school before the first day so he can look around and familiarise with the place. Although all that happens on the first day, earlier preparation never hurts.
Ideally, you should go at a time when the day has already begun and school is in session. That way, you and your child do not get caught in the commotion of the teachers and children getting ready. You and your child will also get to observe what a regular day in school is like – what the other children are doing, the activities they engage in. Hopefully, this will serve to increase your child’s curiosity and desire to participate.
If you need to, go to the school a few times before the first day. The first time you go, try to leave before your child tells you he wants to leave. You want to create the anticipation for more.
Even if the school allows it, don’t try to force your child to participate if he doesn’t want to during these initial visits. You want to create a positive image of school and there is plenty of time for that later on. The purpose of these preliminary visits is to show your child what school is and what children do in school.
3. Sleep-wake Cycles
If your child has always been one of those children who is early to bed and early to rise, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you. Unfortunately for me, Gavin is a late sleeper – late to bed, late to rise. I have been told time and time again that I need to get him to sleep earlier and wake up earlier but it is a lot easier said than done.
Our society promotes late nights – parent’s are home from work late, the shopping malls are open until 10pm. You can’t expect to take a child out late one night and then switch him back to an early routine the next day. It just doesn’t work that way.
My other problem with Gavin is his resistance towards sleep. He doesn’t like to sleep and often fights bed time and nap times. Sometimes, it can take up to an hour or more before I can settle him down to sleep and this is when he is sleepy.
Now that he’s going to school and having to get up by 7am, we’ve had to enforce an early sleep cycle. Again, that’s easier said than done. Despite being worn out from a day of school, and only sleeping slightly under an hour during nap time, he still went to bed at 10pm last night.
4. Go to School with Your Child
One of the benefits of the playschool I selected for Gavin is that they allow parents to attend class with their children. The general recommendation is to come for the first two weeks. In the first week, the child is allowed to do whatever he wants. As the week goes by, the teachers begin to attempt to engage him in activities and to mix with the other children. In the second, Mum or Dad fades into the background as the child is further drawn into the class to participate.
Each child behaves differently so I believe you do need to play it by ear. What is important is that you attend school with your child, especially in the initial week or two and be there until your child is ready for you to leave.
Sometimes, all that is necessary is for your to be there for the initial ten to twenty minutes until your child warms up. After that, you’re free to leave. Sometimes, it might require a little more than that. It is different with every child and you have to assess what works best for your child. I’ll share some of our experiences with Gavin in the next couple of posts.